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    Research-Based Literacy Instruction Strategies

    ILA STAFF
     | Nov 05, 2019

    Every time students pick up a new word or understand the deeper meaning behind a story, their passion for reading grows and prepares them for a future of rich literacy education. The end goal for educators is to instill passion in their students to keep reaching for books. However, getting students to that point can be difficult. No one learner is exactly like another, and every student comes with personal learning preferences and challenges, which pose a major hurdle when it comes to collective classroom learning. 

    Research-based instruction strategies can help educators reach all of their students regardless of the differences among them. Not only do these strategies offer proven evidence for what does and doesn’t work, but they also propose ideas and tactics that educators may have never even thought of implementing in their classroom.  

    We’ve compiled a list of research-based methods for maximizing literacy instruction. Check out the links below for ways to improve the reading experience of our young students:

    Of course, just like every student, every classroom is also different. A concept that works well in one (or many) may be ineffective in another. The most important part is that educators never stop trying until they find the most effective strategies to complement their unique group of students.

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    Trick-or-Read! Tricks for Treating Your Classroom to Halloween Literacy Activities

    ILA STAFF
     | Oct 29, 2019

    While your students are focused on optimizing their trick-or-treat routes in order to get as much candy as possible, keeping their attention in the classroom can be difficult. But don’t let that spook you—take advantage of their Halloween excitement! This list of candy-coated classroom activities, terrifying tales, and phantasmic prompts are sure to keep things from getting “boo-ring.”

    • The National Education Association’s list of Halloween lesson plans for grades K–5 includes hands-on activities, printable worksheets, and more to help welcome the spooky spirit into your classroom.
    • TeachHUB offers suspense-filled reading and writing activities for teaching literacy concepts, language skills, and the historical roots of the holiday to horror enthusiasts of all ages.
    • Keep the day not-so-spooky with some storytelling. A Teachable Teacher’s guide to Halloween books provides descriptions for each book and some accompanying activities so you can make the best pick suited for your students whether they prefer witches or mummies.
    • Scholastic’s list of writing prompts offers 11 “spooktacular” story starters to get your students to express their excitement for Halloween through creative writing.
    • Halloween coincides with the Mexican holiday Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. EduHup’s resource roundup features ways to immerse your classroom into the holiday’s rich history and traditions, which will not only broaden your students’ knowledge but also help them develop an appreciation for other cultures.

    Share your classroom Halloween ideas with @ILAToday on Twitter!

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    Emotions Matter

    By Bhawana Shrestha
     | Sep 23, 2019

    LT372_Reflections_680wAs I overheard a heated Viber conversation between a 21-year-old female (we shared space in the same girls’ hostel in Kathmandu) and her boyfriend (who was studying abroad in the United States), I experienced a sinking feeling that made me question: Where are we heading as human beings?

    In today’s age, we have more opportunities than ever before. Yet, as the conversation I heard suggested, we are not happier and we are more stressed and overwhelmed.

    This young woman came to Kathmandu with high expectations to achieve her dreams. But life is not that easy. Kathmandu is expensive and remaining resilient every day in light of her family’s increasing expectations was frustrating for her. Unable to manage her emotions, she was venting to her boyfriend, who had his own share of struggles as an international student in the U.S. from a third world country.

    If critical thinking is regarded as a fundamental aspect of 21st-century education, why aren’t we starting with thinking about our own lives—what we are feeling and why, how we can manage our emotions better, and what our values are so that we can cultivate relationships and pursue careers that give us fulfillment?

    Always fond of asking questions, I started out as a journalist when I was 17 and later switched careers and served in rural Nepal through the Teach for Nepal fellowship. This was when I realized how emotional well-being plays a crucial role in the learning process.

    Later, when I joined a faculty for undergrads, I realized students even in the city struggled with

    emotional intelligence. A 2013 study by Travis Bradberry and his team at TalentSmart concluded that only 38 out of 100 Nepalese could explain what emotions they experienced a day prior.

    Astonished, I conducted my master’s research on 200 students to measure the state of emotional intelligence in Nepal. This led me to understand that the skills of emotional intelligence were lacking in teachers, and because the teachers weren’t empowered to nurture such important skills in their students, those students would go on to lack crucial skills to deal with life’s challenges.

    All these years, I have witnessed pain in a lot of confused youth who could do so much better if they learned the skills of emotional intelligence. But every time I talk to a crowd of 30, only two raise their hands when I ask if they know about emotional intelligence, and only one usually gets its definition right.

    This has led me to my latest venture, My Emotions Matter, a social enterprise committed to developing emotional intelligence in students, teachers, and working professionals.

    Through self-reflective experiences, we introduce emotional intelligence as a learnable life skill so that individuals are more aware, intentional, and purposeful in their personal and professional lives.

    If people develop the capacity to understand and manage their emotions, they will be in a better position to interact positively and form meaningful relationships. They will be better focused on their goals and resilient in the face of setbacks. These skills can help people navigate fluctuations in their emotions that come from 24/7 connectedness, cultivate intentional face-to-face conversations, respect others for who they are, and pursue meaningful careers.

    The World Economic Forum predicts emotional intelligence to be the sixth most important skill in the workplace by 2020. This crucial ability is what I believe can help human beings flourish.

    Bhawana Shrestha, an ILA member since 2015, is from Nepal. She holds a master of philosophy degree in English, with her research concentration on the state of emotional intelligence in Nepal. She is the cofounder of My Emotions Matter, which helps improve school and organizational climate through emotional intelligence. Shrestha was an ILA 2015 30 Under 30 honoree.

    This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

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    Keys to a Culture of Literacy: Equity, Access, Relevance, and Joyful Interaction

    By Julie Scullen
     | Sep 12, 2019

    Keys_to_culture_680wEducators are often asked, “How do we build a strong culture of literacy?” Within a secondary setting, this question is particularly complicated to answer. Middle and high school students are bombarded daily with a myriad of entertainment options, literally right in the palm of their hand. Literacy leaders and teachers often face disinterested, distracted, and dormant readers.

    By the time students get to secondary school, the focus has shifted. Our culture is vastly and necessarily different from that of elementary schools, and we must build a culture of literacy differently—with an eye toward adult literacy demands. We know this: Secondary school administrators rarely spend hours on a roof in the cold waving to gleeful high school students or reluctantly kiss a pig because their middle-level students reach a reading goal.

    A lasting culture of literacy isn’t created with contests and rewards and it isn’t measured in test scores. It’s about equity, access, relevance, and joyful interaction. It’s about an enthusiasm and a commitment by all staff—not just the English language arts (ELA) teachers—to ensure that all students have a text in their hands they are excited to read. Staff must embrace and value student choice as well as believe in the power of reading beyond the traditional, one-size-fits-all definition.

    A culture of literacy means students see themselves as readers, which means students must do the following:

    See themselves in texts

    Culturally relevant and inclusive texts are essential—or nothing else matters. Students need to see themselves, and their own culture, reflected in the texts they are assigned across the curriculum. Time and space must be dedicated to students thinking of themselves as readers and writers of social studies, mathematics, science, health, and world languages. Students should have frequent opportunities to experience other perspectives, and they should be encouraged to build bridges between worlds. They should have a say in what has relevance in their classrooms.

    See relevance and authenticity

    When embracing and celebrating a culture of literacy, students read and write these relevant texts for authentic reasons. Students witness literacy as necessary and valuable in the lives of adults. Staff must embrace and value student choice as well as believe in the transformative power of reading.

    In a school with a strong commitment to literacy, teachers rarely spend time telling students the key points in a text through a lecture. Instead, students read the text themselves, perhaps multiple times. Excerpts of crucial passages are analyzed and discussed across every discipline, and teachers use strategies and effective practices appropriate for their content. When a culture of literacy within a school is strong, students’ responses to text are deep and thoughtful. Their answers aren’t forced, and students don’t furtively look around for possible answers from which to choose. Teachers in every classroom ensure students engage meaningfully with text every day.

    See joy in literacy

    When a school system is committed to literacy, it is clear as early as within the hiring process. Potential staff members are asked, “What are you reading?” and “What would you recommend to our students?” Everyone is a reader. Administrators, custodians, cooks, the school nurse—they are all able to talk about and celebrate something they read lately. Staff members model what active literacy looks like in the adult world, from mundane to practical to joyous escape. Teachers themselves read with the hope of connecting a book to a student. Students need to see all staff members as readers, not just the ELA teachers. A real culture of literacy requires a commitment by a group of passionate people whose reach extends far beyond the library.

    How do you know if your building has a culture of literacy? If you have to ask, there’s work to be done—but there’s a plethora of personal and professional resources to help you get there.

    Julie Scullen, an ILA member since 1990, is a teaching and learning specialist for secondary reading in Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She teaches graduate courses at Hamline University in St. Paul in literacy leadership and coaching, disciplinary literacy, critical literacy, and reading assessment and evaluation.

    This article originally appeared in the open access July/August issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

    Julie Scullen, Cornelius Minor, Donalyn Miller, Carol Jago, Julia Torres, Minjung Pai, and Terry McHugh will lead one of the 10 institute sessions on Institute Day at ILA 2019 on Thursday, Oct. 10: Spark a Culture of Literacy: Build Positive Adolescent Reading Identities Through Relevance, Equity and Access. For more information, visit ilaconference.org.
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    Elevating Engagement: Bringing Literacy Alive With Robotics

    By Lauren Eutsler
     | Aug 28, 2019

    kid-using-ipadIn today’s K–12 classrooms, students are learning to code using a variety of apps, software, and technologies. My 4-year-old daughter even has her own robot, which she codes by selecting emojis on the Coji app to control the robot’s movement. As a teacher educator, I believe it is my responsibility to provide future educators with hands-on technology and literacy experiences to prepare them to teach tomorrow’s students.

    Because of this stance, I designed and implemented an activity that integrates robotics into literature circles. My fourth graders would have been overjoyed to complete this activity, and my current students (future educators) agree that this activity should be included in their future classrooms.

    Capturing interest begins with book choice

    For valid pedagogical reasons, we often waver between forming heterogeneous or homogeneous student groups in the classroom. I implement literature circles with the goal of creating enjoyable reading experiences. One way I do this is by allowing students to choose their own books, within mature and sensible guidelines (e.g., recommended reading and maturity levels).

    My students express gratitude for this strategy because “by being able to choose our own book, we were more interested and more excited to participate in this project.” Most confess this is the only time in their college career when they are encouraged to read a book of their choice. By allowing my students to choose their own reading material, my hope is that they will model a positive attitude toward reading for their future students.

    A classroom example

    After my students spend about three weeks reading and discussing their literature circle books, the excitement builds as they construct a 3-D diorama to represent their favorite scene from the book. During construction, students carefully consider which parts they want to make move or illuminate. We use everyday materials such as cardboard, paper, paint, scissors, tape, markers, and string.

    Once the dioramas are complete, the next step is to prepare your classroom to teach coding. For the initial setup, I recommend getting support from your librarian or technology specialist. You will need a laptop, power cord, and robotics kit. We used Hummingbird Robotics because the kits are affordable and the compatible coding software is free and user friendly.

    With the software installed, you are ready to teach students how to code. An important step is to distribute the robotics kits so you can pause and answer students’ questions while allowing them to explore the technology. There are many tutorials available, but I recommend identifying one that aligns to your compatible robotics kit. For this reason, I guide my students with the Hummingbird Robotics and Scratch 2.0 tutorial, available here. During this lesson, allow your students to explore how they can use the laptop to drag, drop, and create a coding sequence. Options include the ability to guide directional movement (e.g., turn 360 degrees), adjust speed, play audio features (e.g., a cat’s meow), and activate LED lights of varying brightness.

    Now that students have learned the basics of coding, they are ready to connect the robotics kit to their dioramas. Refer to the video tutorial to remind students how to connect their laptops to their bit controller (i.e., circuit board) and have students attach the servos and/or LED lights to their dioramas. This reminder will help students bring their dioramas to life as they connect the motors and LED lights to their 3-D model according to the code they generated.

    Once connected, students might see a hand waving 90 degrees on repeat, a character spinning in a circle, or an object moving back and forth. You will know the exact moment the dioramas come to life when you hear students shouting in awe at their designs (refer to our robotics diorama example videos and images).  

    Robotics diorama examples

    Following are the dioramas students created:

    Envisioning literacy and robotics in your classroom

    Although nearly all my students had no prior experience coding with robotics, they admit this process “is not too complex” and “gives students the opportunity to explore different career fields as well as encourages hands-on learning.”

    After students have some experience coding with robotics, you might consider how this technology can advance other aspects of literacy within your classroom. You can browse available lesson plans at here. Additional lesson ideas might include researching countries and creating related dioramas or having students create digital stories using scratch coding. The most exciting aspect about using robotics within literacy is the ability for students to expand their imagination—how will your students use coding and robotics to bring literacy alive?

    Lauren Eutsler, an ILA member since 2010, was an elementary teacher in Arizona and Florida for six years before her current role as an assistant professor of literacy and technology in the department of teacher education and administration at the University of North Texas.

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